Their wishes met, two cow­boys now rest in peace


On a hill­top in Hor­ni­tos, with the ranch they both loved within view, two men linked by mu­tual re­spect, the cow­boy way and fi­nal re­quests are now sep­a­rated by only thin walls of wood and a few feet of dirt.

Shortly be­fore a heart attack claimed Art Turner a few years ago at his fam­ily’s 140-year-old ranch in the tiny Mari­posa County town, he left in­struc­tions for Bob Wood, a loyal friend and fel­low cat­tle­man.

“’Make sure Bob makes me a cas­ket,’” said Terry Robin­son, Turner’s nephew.

Turner, 84, died shortly af­ter pulling on his boots one morn­ing in Septem­ber 2012. He’d planned to sad­dle up the horses so he, his brother Gene, Tami Turner and friend Gary Thomp­son could ride out onto the 1,000-acre ranch and move cat­tle.

It’s the way cow­boys are sup­posed to go, they’ll tell you. With their boots on.

Wood and Gary Thomp­son, his best friend and a fel­low rancher, hon­ored Art Turner’s re­quest. They built him a cas­ket of gor­geous cedar planks. They fash­ioned horse­shoes into the han­dles the pall­bear­ers used to carry it. Fam­ily and friends burned their cat­tle brands onto the lid. And on a sunny fall day, Gene Turner led Art’s rid­er­less horse ahead of the hearse to the grave site amid the golden-brown foothills sur­round­ing the ceme­tery next to the Catholic church in Hor­ni­tos. Hun­dreds of peo­ple at­tended.

“It was the only time I’ve ever seen a traf­fic jam in Hor­ni­tos,” said Tim Hel­ton, a long-time friend of all in­volved.

Some­one placed a bot­tle of Jack Daniels atop the cas­ket, and many folks took a sip, some a chug. Next, kin took turns driv­ing old-style square nails — once part of the ranch’s barn — into the top of the box.

Fi­nally, they low­ered the cas­ket into the ground, but they didn’t leave the rest to the gravedig­ger.

“Up un­til 100 years ago,” Robin­son said, “fam­ily buried fam­ily.”

And so they buried Turner, tak­ing turns with the shov­els un­til the mound of dirt next to the grave in the small ceme­tery dis­ap­peared.

They’d hon­ored their friend their way, the way of the Old West that sur­vives to this day on a ranch started in the 1870s by Wil­liam T. Turner, the first of three fam­ily mem­bers to serve as Mari­posa County’s sher­iff.

“He didn’t carry a gun,” great-great­grand­son Robin­son said. “He’d wait un­til the bad guys fell asleep. Then he’d hit ’em on the head with an ax han­dle and take ’em in.”

Wood, who lived in Em­pire, Cal­i­for­nia, and worked in con­struc­tion, joined the fam­ily when he mar­ried Art Turner’s niece and Robin­son’s sis­ter, Kathy. The fam­ily re­fused to let go of him when the cou­ple di­vorced af­ter two decades.

“He fell in love with the ranch the first time I took him up there,” Robin­son said.

Wood spent as much time there as he could, work­ing with Art and the oth­ers and do­ing his best to erad­i­cate wily preda­tors that roamed the area look­ing for easy meals by killing new­born calves.

“I nick­named him ‘Coyote Bob’ back in the 1970s,” Robin­son said. “Every­body knew him as ‘Coyot’ (not pro­nounc­ing the ‘e’). He’s owned a third of the (ranch’s) cat­tle since the late 1980s or early 1990s.”

Like Art Turner a few years ago, “Coyote Bob” Wood be­gan his day a lit­tle more than a week ago on a Satur­day by head­ing out to sad­dle up the horses. He, Thomp­son and Tami Turner were go­ing to ride out to check on the cat­tle, which they planned to gather for that Satur­day’s brand­ing. He bent over to clean out his horse’s hoof.

“He stum­bled back,” Robin­son said. “Gary saw him and asked, ‘You get kicked?’”

“No,” Wood an­swered, “I’m just a lit­tle dizzy.”

Thomp­son, though, im­me­di­ately rec­og­nized it was much more than that. He told Gene Turner to call 911, and Wood soon found him­self in a he­li­copter headed for Me­mo­rial Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Modesto. That dizzi­ness turned out to be an aneurysm in his brain, and he wouldn’t sur­vive it.

“It was just like when my dad died,” Robin­son said. “Every­body who knew (Wood) came in to see him and said their good­byes. He rec­og­nized them. He couldn’t re­spond, but he knew who it was and what they were say­ing. It was pretty spe­cial.”

Like Art Turner be­fore him, Wood — well be­fore fall­ing ill — had told friends what kind of cas­ket he wanted when he died. No fancy metal job for him.

“Don’t you dare put me in a beer can with gold han­dles,” Wood would say. “You put me in a box.”

With Wood in the hos­pi­tal and doc­tors of­fer­ing no hope, Robin­son called friend Mark Carvalho, who builds cas­kets and has do­nated some to the fam­i­lies of mil­i­tary vet­er­ans killed in ac­tion. Carvalho said he would need more than a week to fin­ish it.

So Robin­son de­cided he’d make it him­self. Then Carvalho told him, “You buy the wood and I’ll make it for you.” Wood wanted pine. “I got him hick­ory,” Robin­son said. “It’s as hard of a wood as you can get. He was hard­headed. It was fit­ting.”

Robin­son dropped off the ma­te­ri­als with Carvalho and went back to the hos­pi­tal to see Wood.

“Three hours later, Mark called and said, ‘It’s done. Come pick it up,’” Robin­son said.

Wood, 59, went qui­etly in the wee hours a few days later.

Robin­son, Thomp­son and oth­ers did some al­ter­ations be­fore tak­ing the cas­ket to the mor­tu­ary.

“We lined it with two deer­skins, both (deer) he shot,” Robin­son said. “And we put five coy­otes (pelts, with heads still on) on the walls. They’ll be chas­ing each other around in a cir­cle for an eter­nity.”

For com­fort, they added a piece of fur from an elk that Wood killed. To the out­side, they at­tached the ex­tra horse­shoe han­dles that Wood made when he built Art Turner’s cas­ket.

And just as they did with Turner’s cas­ket, they burned in their brands on the lid. A friend carved the head of a coyote howl­ing at the moon into a slab of wood milled from a pecan tree cut down in Bob’s yard, and it’s mounted on the lid, as well. They all signed their names on the in­side, with Thomp­son sign­ing his ini­tials, “G.W.T.” and adding “Au­gus­tus” in ref­er­ence to the Au­gus­tus McCrae char­ac­ter played by Robert Du­vall op­po­site Tommy Lee Jones’ Woodrow Call in Larry McMurtry’s novel and the TV minis­eries “Lone­some Dove.”

“He (Wood) was Woodrow,” Thomp­son said. “They broke the mold when they built him.”

In the warm af­ter­noon Fri­day, Thomp­son led “Coyote Bob” Wood’s rid­er­less horse ahead of the hearse car­ry­ing the cas­ket made out of re­spect, love, tra­di­tion and the spirit of the Old West.

No Jack Daniels this time, but some­one did lay a tin of snuff on the cas­ket be­fore friends and fam­ily took turns pound­ing the old-style square nails to se­cure it.

Then they low­ered the cas­ket into the hole in the ground and be­gan shov­el­ing in the dirt. Wood’s boots now rest just a few feet from Art Turner’s head in the next grave.

Said Jackie Cagle, Bob’s daugh­ter, “He’s stand­ing on Art’s shoul­ders.”

And as Art Turner and Bob Wood would have de­manded, the oth­ers branded cat­tle at the Turner Ranch on that Satur­day.

An­other man short, and sad­ness in the sad­dles.


A rid­er­less horse is led up a path in trib­ute dur­ing a fu­neral for Bob Wood at Saint Catherine’s Catholic church on March 27, in Hor­ni­tos, Cal­i­for­nia. Wood, who died March 25, was sur­rounded by friends and fam­ily as he was buried in a hand­made cas­ket lined with coyote fur and deer­skin.

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